Crates of Thebes

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Crates (Greek: Κράτης; c. 365-c. 285 BC[1]) of Thebes, was a Cynic philosopher. Crates gave away his money to live a life of poverty on the streets of Athens. He married Hipparchia of Maroneia who lived in the same manner that he did. Respected by the people of Athens, he is remembered for being the teacher of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism. Various fragments of Crates' teachings survive, including his description of the ideal Cynic state.

Contents

Life

Crates was born c. 365 BC[2] in Thebes. He was the son of Ascondus, and was the heir to a large fortune, which he is said to have renounced to live a life of Cynic poverty in Athens. Diogenes Laërtius[3] preserves several different accounts of this story; one of them has Crates giving his money away to the citizens of Thebes, apparently after seeing the beggar king Telephus in a tragedy; whereas another account has him placing his money in the hands of a banker, with the agreement that he should deliver it to his sons, unless they too became philosophers, in which case he should distribute it among the poor.

He moved to Athens where tradition says he became a pupil of Diogenes of Sinope; the precise relationship between Crates and Diogenes is uncertain, but there is one apparent reference to Crates referring to himself as "a fellow-citizen of Diogenes, who defied all the plots of envy."[4] Crates is also described as being the student of Bryson the Achaean,[5] and of Stilpo.[6] He lived a life of cheerful simplicity, and Plutarch, who wrote a detailed biography of Crates which unfortunately does not survive, records what sort of man Crates was:

But Crates with only his wallet and tattered cloak laughed out his life jocosely, as if he had been always at a festival.[7]

He is said to have been deformed with a lame leg and hunched shoulders.[8] He was nicknamed the Door-Opener (Greek: θυρεπανοίκτης)[9] because he would enter any house and people would receive him gladly and with honour:

He used to enter the houses of his friends, without being invited or otherwise called, in order to reconcile members of a family, even if it was apparent that they were deeply at odds. He would not reprove them harshly, but in a soothing way, in a manner which was non-accusatory towards those whom he was correcting, because he wished to be of service to them as well as to those who were just listening.[10]

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